“Woods” are the places a man can go to heal, to be healed with the ones they love.

You didn’t let me know

you would just turn the browned bronze knob and

open the creaking door,

look at me,

worry smeared on your face like

eye liner smeared on a crying mother

surrounded by tangled chestnut locks

bedraggled from a night of fretting.

                                                                                   

Skull in my bony grip I fight this shrew of a hangover,

sweating out Irish whiskey, India pale ales, juniper and quinine.

 

The house and I reek of booze.

 

Brown glass beer bottle with a yellow label

teeters on the counter’s edge.

I look up at you and smirk.

“Come on. Laugh,” I chide, exhaling

a bull alligator’s laugh muted in my nose.

 

I taste and smell like shit.

 

Russet knit scarf – a checkered flannel –

covers the coffee-stained waffle undershirt

your father slept in for thirty falls and winters.

I know the threadbare sleeve ends

formed by yours and his woolgathering.

The tattered frays match your

Expertly chewed fingernails,

exhibits prepped for feature in a freak show museum,

gnarled like wood gouged by a broken awl.

This fashion, I know, signals serious discussions,

defensive diversions, inquiries into interstices

stitched with inky uncertainty and second guesses.

 

Why I know that is no matter of speculation:

the matter matters because

you always make it matter to me.

“Yes. Yes. Your dad’s ashes are proceeding,”

I say to remind you that I know.

“Yes. We know.”

You love the royal “we” so much.

 

Drunk as I still am, I see

you are doing that thing, that

thing when you rub the middle index finger’s pad

against the bare remnant of your pointer’s nail.

“You really are upset aren’t you?” I ask.

 

You tuck a lock behind your ear

 

With a wooden golem’s deliberation

I stagger to the sink and chug a

still-full glass lemonade.

“It’s morning and I’m still drunk you know?”

Of course you know.

 

I smell like shit.

 

Nine hours of heavenless sleep

oozes out my pores, films my teeth,

stains my work shirt, my jeans filthy

from who knows.

“I’m sure you’d like to know who was

over.”

 

No reply.

 

“But it doesn’t matter to me.

We would only pretend it matters.”

This ruse never works,

this dodge that makes me hold myself up,

teetering like the bottle on the shelf.

 

 “Come on,” you say, and reach with a mittened hand.

 

The cleansing is never enough.

 

In your four-wheel drive ’88 Ford pickup

cold glass palliates thudding temples.

Window down the turbulent air forces a

momentary struggle for breath.

I’d like to say it made me alert but

I’d be lying.

“You’re smiling over there.

I see it.”

You were smiling.

 

Turn up the Public Works Administration road

built to help fight the fires. Now they

just provide recreational access or

avenues for smoking weed, vandalism,

love, or

healing.

 

“I don’t want woods,” I say.

“Why always woods?”

Billy Corrigan responds instead of you:

“Forgotten and absorbed

into the Earth

below.”

 

We turn the county’s tightest switchback

curving in a complete acute angle

doubling back,

a black rat snake turning back to escape

or explore.

 

“Why are you smiling?.

 

Woods.

 

“You’re so fucking annoying.”

 

Woods.

 

“I said, why always woods?”

 

I know how you think.

You think this place in its placid purity

can shame me into loving myself

or some other

fucking mumbo-jumbo

“Bah,” I say and watch ferns blur by.

 

You hand me the quilt your aunt made you.

Bands and patches that mean Chattaqua –

or is it Conemaugh? – I don’t recall.

 

I sit in the cold cabin, feet up on the chair

Below dry oak rafters, grain gone gray

like men with canes whose beards

blow in the autumn air.

 

You make eggs over hard.

A pot of coffee.

 

The arms of the chair

await your words of rescue.

under shaking hands

 

Yes.                                   

They do.

I do.

But I don’t wait much.

 

I open the back door,

greeted by frozen airborne must and loam,

and look up the mountain.

Across another part of Laurel Run

the ridge’s quilt of snow, stone, and bush

 

a rifle shot peals.

 

I see the doe fall from her jump

crashing headfirst into the laurel.

She kicks and bucks,

hooves flailing,

spraying the snow

red at her breast

her lung surely punctured

she lays down her head

almond eyes resting in peace

upon the Earth

recognized and absorbed

into the Earth

below.

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